The Tangled Tale of Babe I'm Gonna Leave You -

On Led Zeppelin’s first album (released in early 1969), Side One, Cut Two is a song labeled “Trad. arr. Jimmy Page”—”Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.” Just where did this “traditional” song come from? Browsing the internet can lead one on numerous erroneous paths but the truth is “Babe” was written as a simple folk tune in the late 1950s. Its history is among the most labyrinthine I’ve encountered.


Around 1960 at UC Berkeley, there was a late-night radio show with live acoustic music. All were welcome and, true to the folk tradition, it was usually a mix-and-match affair among performers. One regular was sophomore Janet Smith. Another contributor was Anne Johannson, whose repertoire included her composition “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You.” Smith expressed interest in a couple of Anne’s songs and, after asking if she could learn them, jotted down the lyrics.

Janet Smith transferred to Oberlin College and continued playing at informal hootenannies. In 1962, Joan Baez played a show at the college and accepted an invitation to attend a living room “hoot.” Baez took a liking to some songs Smith played and asked her to send a tape of them, including “Babe,” to her manager. The subject of the songs’ origins and/or authorship never came up.

OK now, stay with me here…it gets convoluted.

Soon after, Joan recorded the song and included it on her In Concert album. Initial pressings of it had no writer’s credit for “Babe.” The publisher affiliated with Joan Baez’s label, Vanguard Records, later sent Janet Smith a letter asking if she had written the song. Smith was prompted to locate Anne, who had since married UC professor Glen Bredon. Janet’s subsequent reconnection with her led to a 1964 Joan Baez songbook rightfully listing Anne Bredon as the composer.

Fast forward to the 1980s when Janet Smith heard her son listening to “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You” by Led Zeppelin. Noting that their credits for the song made no mention of Bredon, Smith again tracked down Anne. As folkies, neither Janet nor Anne had been familiar with Led Zeppelin(!). Royalty statements to Bredon from Vanguard’s Reyerson Publishing had dwindled in the ’60s as Baez’s album sales slowed, so she had no reason to think about it.

Anne authorized Janet to pursue their case with Zep’s publisher Superhype, agreeing to split any proceeds 50/50. Superhype claimed that since Page learned the song from Joan’s album—one with no writing credit, leading him to assume it was an old song—and that Led Zeppelin’s arrangement and recording made the song famous, they should share in the rewards. Eventually things were worked out such that subsequent pressings of Zep’s version would list Anne Bredon, Jimmy Page and Robert Plant. (Anne gets 50% of the royalties and Page and Plant split the other half). Interestingly, Baez’s recording still/now credits only Anne, although I’ve also seen it as “Anne H. Bredon (by assignment from Janet Smith).”

Anne Bredon has written many other songs and is still involved in music and the arts in northern California. This article originally appeared in 2011

This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead
San Miguel Chapel
San Miguel Chapel

Is San Miguel Chapel really the oldest church in the United States? It’s hard to say for sure, of course, but if you accept its 1610 building date, it’s certainly in the running. San Miguel Chapel was, in fact, built around that time, by a group of Tlexcalan Indians who came from Mexico with the first Spanish settlement party. They settled here, on the south bank of the Santa Fe River, in what is now known as Santa Fe’s oldest … Read More

New Mexico Caves | A Reminiscence

“Excavating for a Mine, Lived a Miner, Forty-niner… and his daughter , Clementine…. drove she ducklings to the water, every morning just at nine.” ♫ ♫♪ A few extraordinary things happened just now; we opened our mouths and made a sound from deep down inside our body; from vocal chords in the throat that open and shut like a frenetic steel trap, making sounds we interpret as words and music and air/breath is moving through as we do it. This ‘sounds’ … Read More

Books From the Land of Enchantment

New Mexico has long inspired storytellers. From the early native people who passed down stories to their descendants to tellers of cuentos, Spanish Colonial tales, followed by a steady stream of novelists, poets and nonfiction authors, the region has provided a profound sense of creativity, with majestic mountains, endless views, a unique blend of cultures and remote ruggedness. Writers have long been drawn to New Mexico, and they’ve extolled the region in novels, poetry, essays, articles, plays, nonfiction and more.  … Read More

Featured Businesses